• Chapter 3

    Reading the REcruiting Game

  • What are your chances of playing football in college?


    Breaking down the basics

    There are about 73,000 rostered football players in the NCAA across FBS, FCS, D-II, and D-III. Each year, accounting for red-shirts, a little less than a quarter of that number, about 17,000, are recruited to form the new freshman class.

    On the high school side, there are approximately 1.1 million football players nationwide. About a quarter of them, or 300,000 or so, are seniors.

    In other words, there are only about 17,000 spots in NCAA football programs for those 300,000 or so high school senior football players. That’s only 5.6%, or about 1 in 18.

    Why do we tell you this? Two reasons.

    First, you should know that it is incredibly hard to break through and get the opportunity to play in college. We aren't here to sugar coat anything. We are here to bring transparency. To be successful, it’s crucial that athletes and their families focus their resources and time on the right things, and target the right schools. We formed AthleticOutlook to help you do that.

    The other important message here is this: the opportunities to play football in college extend far beyond NCAA Division I. One of the biggest mistakes we see athletes make is focusing solely on the big Division I schools, and overlooking excellent, competitive programs at smaller schools. We always advise athletes to keep all options open. Often, strong interest from one school that may not be at the top of the priority may be an excellent back-up choice, and in fact may wind up increasing interest at a more favorable school.

    How Important Are Stars?

    You hear it all the time. Such and such four-star running back got an offer from USC or Clemson. How important are those stars?
    Don't get caught up in the hype. The likelihood of earning a star is very, very low. It depends on a lot of factors that are physical or otherwise out of your control.

    Using class of 2018 data from Rivals, of the 300,000 or so football-playing seniors, only 1.2% of them get any stars at all. The vast majority of the 17,000 or so successful college recruits have no stars.

    Our advice is not to worry about stars. It’s too early to tell who is going to be great at this age. Plenty of NFL standouts never earned a star in high school. It’s the wrong thing to focus on.

    What Do Physical Stats Really Mean?

    Physical size and speed are important predictors of success in football. And they are easy to measure.
    At the same time, toughness, instincts, and character are also important. These are not so easy to put a number on, and yet these are things the athlete has more control over.

    A player of under-average physical size for a particular NCAA division may make up for it with above average speed or particularly strong ability to read the game.

    This is not to say physical stats are still a big factor; they are. In order to help athletes gauge where they stack up on physical attributes, we put their stats into a comparison chart where they can see how their weight, height, and speed stack up against averages in each NCAA division for their position.

    Below are examples of height and weight comparisons for a 190-pound linebacker. The weight chart shows the athlete could be in line with the averages for D-III or D-II if he gains 15-20 pounds.

    The objective of sharing these charts with our athletes is not to put them in a box or restrict to what they might think is possible; rather, it’s to provide a context for the coaching points we deliver that are aimed specifically at compensating for under-average physical traits. Our whole goal is maximum transparency, which helps our athletes set better goals, train smarter, and be the best they can be.

    How Do You Know If a Coach Is Really Interested in You?

    The world of college football recruiting communications can be a tricky and sometimes misleading one. Your email may get on a list somewhere and suddenly you find one or more coaches emailing you with apparent interest. Excited, you begin researching the schools and carefully replying to the coaches. But then the communication channels go silent. Are the coaches really interested? How do you know?

    Pretty simple. If you get a personal phone call or email, the coach is interested. What qualifies as personal vs impersonal? Here are some examples of each:


    1. “John, Thank you for your interest in XYZ University football! All interested athletes should fill out our online recruiting form...” (Impersonal)
    2. “John, We’d love to see you play. The best way to get recruited by our program is to attend one of our ID camps...” (Impersonal)
    3. “John, We’ve identified you as an excellent fit for our program. Please consider attending our upcoming ID camp…” (Impersonal)
    4. “John, Your profile video came across my desk and would love to see you play. We have three ID camps this summer…” (Impersonal)
    5. “John, I just finished watching the tape of your game vs Jefferson and I really like what I saw. I like your quick feet and your ability to read your keys is impressive for your age. Do you have time for a phone call where we could share a bit about our program and learn more about you?” (Personal)

    You see the difference? The first four appear at first glance to be personal, but other than addressing the athlete by name (easily accomplished by mass mail merge), there is nothing truly personal in those emails.

    The fourth example has ample evidence that the coach actually watched your tape and is responding positively to it. There is no way this email could have been automatically generated - the coach mentions the name of your opponent as well as specific things about your play. And he is offering to start a personal relationship with you by asking for a phone call. He is truly interested.
    Here are a couple of real emails. Personal or impersonal?

    If you guessed impersonal, you’re correct. Neither of these emails contains anything truly specific to the athlete other than his name; both were impersonal form letters masquerading as personal emails!

    Are we saying college ID camps are a bad idea? No we are not. To be sure, they are big money makers for the schools. Notice how in the first email above the coach unabashedly asks the athlete to invite his whole team to the camp!

    But going to a college ID camp can be an excellent idea - particularly if the coach has already expressed interested in you. Your attending their camp is a strong signal from you that you are seriously interested in their program, which usually works for you. And there are other benefits of attending a camp… getting to meet the coaches and team, seeing the campus, etc. We will cover camps in more depth in a later chapter.

    How Do You Get a Read on Where You Stand?

    One of the most important steps in the recruiting process is to gain a clear understanding of where your current level of performance fits in the various levels of college ball.

    There’s an old adage: “You should play one level below where you think you can, and two levels below where your dad thinks you can.”

    This is a bit dramatic and over-simplified. There are certainly plenty of athletes and dads who are undershooting the right college level, and many who just don’t have a much of an idea at all of where they could play at the college level.

    But some of the most disappointing stories are of athletes who passed up great opportunities to play because they were sure the USC coach was about to call. Being realistic is a big key to having successful recruiting outcomes.

    And the best way to gain a realistic, accurate perspective is to get an objective, third-party performance evaluation.
    There are two big benefits such an evaluation provides.

    First, it calibrates your level of play to the right college level. This in turn helps you focus your resources on, for example, the right schools and camps, saving time and money and improving outcomes.

    Second, a performance evaluation by a knowledgeable college or pro coach provides an opportunity to get extremely valuable feedback on your game and counsel on small things you can do to move your game forward significantly.

    At the college and professional level such evaluations are performed immediately following the end of each season. In these “season exit meetings”, coaches will sit down with each athlete and tell him where he stands in the line up and what he needs to do in order to improve his game. The output of the meeting is a roadmap to preparing for next season, a custom recipe for becoming the best athlete he can be.

    Depending on where an athlete is in the recruiting cycle, this high-level coaching can be a game changer.
    It is not uncommon for an athlete to get an evaluation in their sophomore or junior year that projects Division III, but also contains actionable insights for the athlete, only to see that athlete embrace those insights and hard work and wind up ultimately receiving multiple scholarship offers to play for Division I programs.

    It’s worth underscoring this notion of athlete growth as a big variable in the whole recruiting process. In the high school years, a promising football player can launch his game to a whole new level with the right tweaks his approach to training. One-on-one coaching is extremely valuable in these years, and often is the largest catalyst in athletic growth and progress toward playing at the next level.

    We, the coaches at AthleticOutlook, believe that this powerful duo of objective evaluation plus actionable coaching insight is the essence of a successful recruiting process. That’s what we endeavor to provide to high school athletes nationwide.

  • Learn how college coaches approach recruiting, evaluate you, and make offer decisions.

    There are a lot of myths and misinformation floating around. Don't be misled.

    Recruiting has changed in the last decade. Learn how it works today and how to read whether a coach is really interested.

    ID camps, combines, 7-on-7s, profile exposure services,... Learn what matters, what doesn't, and what could hurt your chances.

    The inside scoop on NCAA rules of contact, official visits, receiving offers, and making commitments.

    Our coaches share the 10 steps every athlete should take to get recruited. Receive this chapter when you apply to participate in a recruiting program.

  • We are AthleticOutlook, a community of experienced college coaches who work personally with high school athletes and their families to help them improve recruiting outcomes and save money in the process.

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